Do you have what it takes to become a public intellectual? Do you envision yourself as a pioneering leader in your field, as someone who inspires greater public interest in your discipline? This semester, Stony Brook students pondering these questions have an invaluable resource in public intellectual Naomi Wolf, the University’s visiting lecturer, New York Times best-selling nonfiction author, and third-wave feminist activist.
First invited to present a workshop series in 2015 by Sacha Kopp, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), Wolf — a cultural commentator, political activist, Rhodes Scholar, and PhD holder in English literature from Oxford University — returns to Stony Brook to continue her four-part workshop series, “The Public Intellectual,” under the auspices of the Humanities Institute. This latest round of workshops features more hands-on, person-to-person coaching by Wolf as well as in-session writing activities. Wolf designed these workshops to help students and faculty alike articulate their expertise and ideas to non-academic audiences and begin the process of becoming successful public intellectuals.
When asked about Wolf’s ongoing workshop series, Dean Kopp noted that CAS wants “to support academics who want to communicate their work to a broad public constituency. Based on the interest in and success of our initial experiment, we welcomed Dr. Wolf back to the College this semester so that more students and faculty could benefit from her insight and hands-on coaching techniques.”
Dean Kopp observed that a major component of Wolf’s workshops has been inspiring students and faculty to find new ways to deliver their ideas: “Attendees are learning that they don’t have to change their work or arguments in any way; they simply have to communicate them differently to impact the larger society, and many are having their work appear in terrific public venues.”
Kathleen Wilson, History Professor and Director of the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook, has known Wolf for many years. She observed that “Naomi Wolf reminds us, the academic community, of the urgency of our mission to engage our larger publics, and her strategies for doing so, from op-eds to TV interviews, help us see our power.”
As a graduate student in European history, I have been fortunate to attend all of Wolf’s engaging workshops this semester. While Wolf is famous and controversial for her political writings (her 1990 bestseller The Beauty Myth catapulted her to national media limelight, and she later served as a political advisor to Bill Clinton and Al Gore), in these workshop settings Wolf’s approach is much more that of a teacher, educator, and motivational speaker.
Wolf structures her workshops thematically and cumulatively, with her presentations this semester building successively off of each other. Her first presentation outlined the concept of the public intellectual and focused on how students and faculty alike can make strong first impressions. Wolf’s second presentation focused on how students and faculty can pitch their ideas and proposals to more narrowly targeted audiences of potential supporters and donors. Her third presentation focused on how students and faculty can write successful op-ed pieces for major newspapers and journals, highlighting Professor Nancy Hiemstra’s publication of a 2016 immigration policy op-ed piece in The Huffington Post, which she distributed and discussed with the workshop participants.
One of the things which stood out to me as I attended these successive workshops – part lecture, part collaborative discussion, and part interactive personal coaching by Wolf – was the remarkable diversity and breadth of the different causes, projects, issues, and initiatives near and dear to the students and faculty proposing them. Participants proposed op-ed ideas as diverse as converting unused University land space into agricultural commons and expanding accessibility to equine stress relief therapy for veteran and non-veteran PTSD survivors. I also pitched my proposal for improving American-Russian relations through cultural and citizen diplomacy, and Wolf provided immensely helpful and encouraging feedback.
It has been a pleasure to learn from Wolf’s extensive experience in media and public relations engagement alongside some of my brilliant colleagues and co-workers. In terms of her latest projects, Wolf is currently engaged full-time in a digital media start-up company, The Daily Clout, a Manhattan-based democracy advocacy tech startup which seeks to expand U.S. citizens’ access to vital information about different Congressional and state bills and laws.
For interested students and faculty who have not yet been able to attend Wolf’s workshops, her fourth and final presentation for the semester will take place in Humanities 1008 from 2 pm to 4 pm on Tuesday, April 18. Click here for videos of past lectures.
— Ryan Hunter